NACCHO News: Former Chief Minister takes job in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health

 

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Former Chief Minister Jon Stanhope at his new workplace, the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service, with chief executive Julie Tongs, left. Photo: Jamila Toderas

Story as published Canberra Times  

Mr Stanhope described Aboriginal disadvantage and discrimination as Australia’s greatest social issue. In Canberra, the problem was hidden by the city’s prosperity and by a degree of complacency, he said. “It’s what’s drawn me here, the extent to which there is just enormous need within this community. Most Canberrans just could not imagine the circumstances in which this community lives … There is just still so much to do.”

Aboriginal people represented less than 2 per cent of the city’s population, but made up a quarter of the prison population, half the people at the Bimberi youth detention centre, and 26 per cent of children in care.

Former ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope has joined the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal health service, a job that reflects his longstanding interest in Aboriginal issues and represents his first foray into the community sector.

Mr Stanhope has also taken a one-day-a-week job as professorial fellow at the University of Canberra, where he is organising a monthly public seminar series on issues of his choosing – the first to be held on May 13 on asylum seekers, and the second later in May on affordable housing. The seminars are to focus on local and national topics and could prove a thorn in the side of ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, as Mr Stanhope highlights sometimes uncomfortable topics for the Labor Party.

He is working two days a week as an adviser at Winnunga, a Narrabundah-based health service used by three-quarters of the region’s indigenous population.

Chief executive Julie Tongs hopes he will help the organisation attract funding and develop strategies to deal with its biggest challenges, including “out of control” rates of imprisonment, large numbers of children in care, and more recently the drug ice.

Ms Tongs said the increasing use of ice of the past 18 months presented challenges never faced before, with Winnunga having to call in the police at least once a fortnight to help with a client.

“Some days it’s very chaotic here when we have got people in the waiting room that are affected by ice and are psychotic,” she said. “Multiply what’s happening out there [in the wider community] by about five and that’s what we cop most days.”

Over a period of just two months, four young men had died as a result of ice use.

Mr Stanhope described Aboriginal disadvantage and discrimination as Australia’s greatest social issue. In Canberra, the problem was hidden by the city’s prosperity and by a degree of complacency, he said. “It’s what’s drawn me here, the extent to which there is just enormous need within this community. Most Canberrans just could not imagine the circumstances in which this community lives … There is just still so much to do.”

Aboriginal people represented less than 2 per cent of the city’s population, but made up a quarter of the prison population, half the people at the Bimberi youth detention centre, and 26 per cent of children in care.

Winnunga had grown from a couple of rooms at the Griffin centre to a small house at Ainslie, to the large and complex organisation at Narrabundah, and was now looking at whether it should expand to other parts of the city.

Ms Tongs, still awaiting federal funding decisions for the coming financial year, and with a need to triple the number of counsellors, said she hoped Mr Stanhope could “open doors that we haven’t been able to in the past”.

Mr Stanhope said he felt “energised” and “incredibly comfortable” working at Winnunga where he could focus on a longstanding passion.

His job at Canberra University’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis gives him a free hand on seminar topics, and here, too, he will focus on longstanding interests.

He said he was deeply worried about people being priced out of free-standing homes, which had become “the great Australian pipe dream” as affordable housing was redefined as apartment living.

Former deputy Under Treasurer Dr Khalid Ahmed will speak at the lunchtime seminar in the city.

For the seminar on asylum seekers, two young Canberrans, a Muslim and a Tamil, will speak, along with Associate Professor John Minns, from Canberra’s Refugee Action Committee.

The seminars are free and open to the public and Mr Stanhope is looking to follow up with roundtable event